Graphic Witness: Hugo Gellert
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Hugo Gellert: Karl Marx' 'Capital' in Lithographs

The expropriation whereby the countryfolk were divorced from the land [4/4]

PRIMARY ACCUMULATION: The expropriation whereby the countryfolk were divorced from the land

The Highland Gaels were organized in clans, each of which was the owner of the land on which it was settled. The representative of the clan, the chief or "great man," was but the titular owner of this land, just as the reigning Queen of England is the titular owner of all the national soil. It must not be supposed that when the English government succeeded in putting an end to the continual internecine wars waged by these "great men" against one another, and in stopping their perpetual inroads into the Lowlands, the chiefs thereupon abandoned their time-honored trade of robbery. The trade continued, though in a changed form. On their own authority they converted their titular ownership into an absolute right of private property; as this procedure encountered resistance from the clansmen, the chiefs decided to drive the latter out by open force. "A king of England might as well claim to drive his subjects into the sea," says Professor Newman. This revolution, which began in Scotland after the last attempt of the Stuart Pretender, may be followed in its early phases in the writings of Sir James Steuart and James Anderson. In the eighteenth century the Gaels who were hunted off the land were simultaneously forbidden to emigrate, the object being to drive them by force into Glasgow and other manufacturing towns.

For an example of the methods that prevailed in the nineteenth century, it will be enough to describe the "clearings" made by the duchess of Sutherland. This person, being well informed regarding matters economic, determined, immediately upon entering into her government, to effect a radical cure and to convert into a sheep-walk the whole county whose population, by the application of similar methods in the past, had already been reduced to 15,000. During the years 1814-1820 these 15,000 inhabitants, about 3000 families in all, were systematically hunted and rooted out. All their villages were destroyed and burned, all their tilled fields were converted into pasture. British soldiers were placed at Her Grace's disposal for carrying out these measures, and the redcoats came to blows with the natives. One old woman perished in the flames of her cottage, refusing to leave it. Thus did the duchess gain possession of 794,000 acres of land which had from time immemorial belonged to the clan.

She assigned to the evicted inhabitants about 6000 acres by the seashore, this amounting to two acres per family. The area in question had hitherto lain waste, bringing in no return to the inhabitants. The duchess, in the goodness of her heart, actually went so far as to let this land to the clansmen at an average rental of 2s. 6d. per acre, payable by those who for centuries had shed their blood for her family. The stolen clanlands she divided into 29 huge sheep-farms, each inhabited by one family, usually consisting of imported English farm servants. By the year 1825, the 15,000 Gaels had been replaced by 131,000 sheep. The remnant of the aborigines, outcasts on the seashore, were trying to earn a living as fishermen. They had become amphibians, living, as an English writer says, half on land and half on the water, and withal only half living on both.

But the brave Gaels had to pay even dearer for their romantic idolization of the "great men" of the clan. The smell of the fish reached the nostrils of these great men. They scented profit, and leased the seashore to the wholesale fish dealers of London. For the second time the Gaels were hunted out. . . .

The spoliation of the property of the Church, the fraudulent alienation of the State domains, the theft of the common lands, the transformation of feudal property and clan property into modern private property (a usurpation effected by a system of ruthless terrorism)--these were the idyllic methods of primary accumulation. They cleared the ground for capitalist agriculture, made the land part and parcel of capital, while providing for the needs of urban industry the requisite supply of masterless proletarians.